COCHRANE: Blue Jays should be selling at MLB’s trade deadline
Before the season, members of the Toronto Blue Jays’ upper management gave the impression in public comments that the team was ready to aggressively chase a playoff berth.
The Jays opened the season with a solid hitting lineup led by homer champion Jose Bautista, a deep starting staff fronted by Ricky Romero and a potentially strong bullpen headed by talented young closer Sergio Santos.
There was reason to believe the team would start adding more from the trade market if the club was still contending at mid-season.
With the season now at the unofficial midway mark, the all-star break, and with the July 31 trade deadline looming, it will soon be decision time for the Jays.
With a 43-43 record, Toronto is all but out of the race for first place in the AL East. The Jays are tied with Boston for last place, 9 games behind the leading New York Yankees. There’ll be no division title for Toronto this year.
Thanks to the new wild-card format, though, two additional teams will play off for a final AL post-season berth, and Toronto is only 2 games shy of getting in.
So, what should the Jays do? Should they buy, sell or stand pat for the second half?
Plenty of fans, and even players such as Bautista, are pushing for Jays management to acquire the pitching help the team so desperately needs. About all general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said publicly, though, is that the team is still looking for veteran pitching. That’s sort of obvious.
Here’s what he’s facing.
Kyle Drabek is out for the year after having Tommy John surgery. Brandon Morrow, out with an oblique injury, has only recuperated to the point where he’s long-tossing the ball. Drew Hutchison has an elbow sprain. Luis Perez is gone for the season due to a torn UCL. Closer Santos is recuperating from an early season shoulder injury, though he’s expected back in the second half.
The result? Too much stress is being put on the pitchers in the bullpen, and their performance numbers are generally taking a serious turn for the worse.
Toronto has suffered too many key pitching injuries to win anything this season. The team is surviving on its hitting alone, and to trade talented youth for veterans in a longshot bid to earn a wild-card playoff spot would be foolhardy.
Let’s be realistic. The Jays won’t win the AL East, and with seven clubs ahead of or tied with them in the wild-card chase, getting to the post-season would require beating extremely long odds.
Anthopoulos seems like too smart a guy to try patching up this hurting team with an expensive buying spree. But hopefully, he won’t stand pat. I’d like to see him do a modest bit of late-season selling.
Lefty reliever Darren Oliver has sparkling credentials and may be too old to help anyone next year. Slugger Edwin Encarnacion, a free agent after this season, would be an attractive addition for any contender. Toronto doesn’t need to sign the unproven Encarnacion to an all-star’s contract.
Remember Vernon Wells? The team also has a few quality veterans who could be moved to bring in help for the future.
The more you study the Jays’ situation, the more it seems there’s really only one sensible option when a season has gone this bad due to such a devastating string of pitching injuries. That option is to start thinking about next year.
Chris Cochrane is a sports columnist with The Chronicle Herald and the author of Inside the Game.